Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Not a ranger, a gardener of love

The "Ranger Me" Challenge never grabbed me, and I couldn't quite figure out why. I could have just moved on and payed attention to something else, but something made me want to figure out what was bothering me. Then I realized, it's putting myself in a uniform.

I knew from about 11 or 12 years old that I was subject to the draft, and that I was not going to register or serve in the military. I am a lifelong pacifist, out of political conviction, not religious, although Khalil Gibran was a kind of mystical inspiration. I began assembling my dossier to establish that I was a Conscientious Objector to War by the time I was 13.

So putting myself in a ranger uniform just didn't work. It's also uncomfortable in that many Park Rangers are armed and sworn police, with the capacity to use deadly force. I cannot imagine being in a position to use deadly force. I have never struck another human being, or held a weapon since pre-teen archery practice.

I decided to try to research a bit the historical rangers, and the mythical rangers, Aragorn/Strider from Tolkien, but still pretty militaristic. There was a Norwegian archer who was a conceivable model, but she's pretty fierce, too.

So really my alter ego as a Steward of the Earth, a Protector of Parks and Wildlands, is the Gardener of Love I was back in the 70's:

That's the communal outhouse on the hillside behind me, and hillside above that outhouse is the one that we terraced for a vineyard, which I wrote about in "Markings on Her Face."

Mike Rose's #celebrateteachers post

Wonderful post from Mike Rose, apropos of the #celebrateteachers tag:

Monday, July 27, 2015

Worms, gardening, and curation

My mind is wandering, and there are so many interesting and curious things to notice as the #CLMOOC meanders into a a 5th Make Cycle, Stories and Spaces. This is sort of that, in its way, more on my lifelong love affair with worms. Their undergroundedness, in particular, makes them essentially unphotographable in their native habitat without elaborate preparation and equipment. But I could sort of snap a fake photo of them at work by lifting off the burlap coffee sacks which cover their workspace in my backyard bricoleur's worm farm:

This is the frontline team, in the bin which regularly gets new buckets of kitchen scraps to go to work on, every week or two get their whole space disrupted by a "turning," mixing up the bottom layers where those workers who think they might be getting done here start trying to see if they can get out through one of the drain holes, and the few brave pioneers who've been working on all the fresh stuff at the top and maybe are feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of the task, and are hoping to have some fresh recruits to their ranks [odd how military language is creeping in here]. So once everything's been mixed up again, and the burlap sacks put back in place, I thought it would help the groupness of this #PhotoFriday essay I planned to write in response to Kim's call if I also singled out a random individual from the group:

This little guy is the Chosen One, but what's it to her? All she ever wants is to get back underground, away from this useless [to her] light which only means the danger of drying out, so she wriggles along, fishing in the interstices of the burlap for a way to make an exit. She finally found one, and I actually made a little movie of her escape.

Our Blatantly Obviously Sexually Mature Chosen Specimen of the Worm Group Makes Her Daring Escape!


I just love worms. There was a short-lived radical magazine during my youth called "Root and Branch." Thinking about roots and the underground, unseen parts of plants mattered to me then because of the feeling that persisted for me throughout my childhood, from my earliest memories up to entering a more public world in junior high and high school, and only began to fade--or rather, transform--in the early 1960's, of being part of a very small group of radical outcasts, the failed communists who did not succeed anywhere--we lost Spain, we lost to the witch-hunters, even the bastardized versions of communism as a system of government were utter failures with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Cuba was the one spot where perhaps there might be a glimmer of hope for some success... So, in my interior emotional landscape, we were probably better off hidden underground, not likely to be able to pull off realizing any of our dreams anyway, even if we could crawl up into the light. 

Then came the explosion of the Sixties, and that reticence flipped to its arrogant opposite--we were the future, the Vanguard of the Revolution, the visionaries able to deconstruct the entire public sphere and remake it into an egalitarian, loving community of Free People. Of course, not everyone was ready, but those who were would form the vanguard, go back to the land, learn to nurture and heal the earth, and thereby save her, us, and everyone in one swell foop! And that meant gardening, not really farming in the conventional large-scale sense of tens and hundreds of acres, but not backyard scale either: we had three full acres of relatively flat fertile land, three year-round creeks meeting on the property, a herd of up to 30 goats, and various chickens and other animals, including a pig for slaughter and a cow who was inadvertently slaughtered out of our ignorance of proper husbandry. There was not the currency, caché, nor confusion about the word "organic" then--it just made sense, sort of, though Rodale's earnestness seemed somehow discomfiting, and we were more drawn to the European tradition of biodynamic farming, a more honest and resonant term in any case. It was the British as colonists in India wanting to create self-sustaining farms not needing external inputs who developed the concept of mixed animal husbandry for manure, and crop rotation and cover cropping for soil building, which we implemented as best we could. I wrote about some of the work we did there building terraces in "Markings on her face."  Among the many jobs I did there was to become a keeper of worms, and among the worms in my garden now are some distant descendants of some of those worms, quite possibly, as I've brought some of them along from each garden I've tended to the next, over these almost 50 years.

Among the most important of the gardening lessons I've carried over into many other areas of my life, and now to curation, is the balancing of positive and negative orientations and behaviors as one cultivates. While cultivars deserve as much room as they need to grow as big as the cultivator might want them to, there's nothing competitive or aggressive about the volunteers which happen to be growing near the cultivars--they are not enemies, that word "weed" is a piece of vile profanity, not be uttered in humane and compassionate gardening/curating circles. They have availed themselves of the opportunity to grow where there was room, and if you, gardener, want to give that room over to one of your chosen pretties, well, go right ahead, but spare me, the volunteer, your moralizing, just say thanks for creating the pathways for worms and roots to follow later, and leave a few corners and nooks around the edges of your garden for some of my sisters and brothers to survive. The cultivator's attention should be on the positive energy she is directing towards the chosen plant, not on the removal of the surrounding volunteers. Their removal allows access to the ground, the surround, where the real cultivating takes place, where soil is rustled and nestled and fed with worms and compost, so that she can hold the water and the nutrients the cultivar needs. The magic happens underground, where our fingers wriggle around.

It is nice to see what emerges above ground, too.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Discipline Systems

The last make about systems has had me a bit puzzled. Having had a multi-year immersion in one of the most system-analysis driven fields of social "science," studying sociology and anthropology at Reed College in the 1960's, I was both fascinated and repelled by the ways that perception is filtered by system model that one is using to examine a topic. A few #CLMOOCers have expressed skepticism about the distortions that can result from a system model being imposed on a situation, our tendency to make the information fit into what the system frame says should be there.

Then I realized that a lot of my hesitation about the whole topic is rooted in my ambivalence about the elephant in the room: by far the most common way that teachers use or encounter the word "system" is as part of the compound, discipline system.

I work mostly as a substitute teacher these days, and whenever I go into a classroom, the kids almost always want to point out to me the system that their teacher uses: points, charts, clothespins with names on them, red/yellow/green stripes where those clips get stuck and then moved around, hangman games in progress on the whiteboard with POPCORN PARTY! written underneath... The variations are multifarious, but the bottom line is almost always that there are rewards and punishments built in, there are labels attached to kids, and the whole thing seems so complicated and beside the point... Usually I just explain to the kids that I know I won't be able to understand their teacher's system very well, so instead, let's just agree that we're going to be kind to each other today. It almost always works, because I can also offer a meaningful reward: if we can all get along and get the work that the teacher has left for them done a little early, then we'll have time for some string games, and they will each get a string of their own that they can take home with them.

This is not to say that I am opposed to any and all discipline systems. Especially when there is leadership at the school which lays out clear expectations and has set up workable procedures for dealing with challenging behavior, a system can be a great thing. But I am a strong believer in Alfie Kohn's basic approach, laid out in Punished by Rewards: the more externalized the system and the more demanding it is of compliance, the less likely kids are to be interested in learning for its own sake.

The need of the school to fulfill its "in loco parentis" obligation and keep everyone safe is one thing, but using a military and hierarchical model for decision making and the distribution of power within the system of the school never seems to work very well. I've been looking for resources about the Brazilian businessman who has a TED talk about abolishing hierarchies in his multinational company, and Google has failed me so far (I have the reference somewhere on my dead computer, and haven't been able to retrieve that particular bit!). I recall him talking about how the military abolished hierarchies in the buildup to WW Two, because they knew they had to gear up a lot of people to a lot of stuff quickly, and collaboration would be a much more efficient approach that command and control.

There are systems approaches to collaboration, of course, but there's something in my anarcho-communist roots which rebels whenever I see the word "system."  Nevertheless, here's a pretty diagram of a system promoted by the US Department of Education, just because I feel like I need a graphic of some kind in here...

Also, here are my notes on the etymologies of the relevant words:


discipline (n.) 
early 13c., "penitential chastisement; punishment," from Old French descepline (11c.) "discipline, physical punishment; teaching; suffering; martyrdom," and directly from Latin disciplina "instruction given, teaching, learning, knowledge," also "object of instruction, knowledge, science, military discipline," from discipulus (see disciple (n.)). 


disciple (n.) 
Old English discipul (fem. discipula), Biblical borrowing from Latin discipulus "pupil, student, follower," said to be from discere "to learn" [OED, Watkins], from a reduplicated form of PIE root *dek- "to take, accept" (see decent). But according to Barnhart and Klein, from a lost compound *discipere "to grasp intellectually, analyze thoroughly," from dis- "apart" (see dis-) + capere "to take, take hold of" (see capable). Compare Latin capulus "handle" from capere. Sometimes glossed in Old English by þegn (see thane).


system (n.) 
1610s, "the whole creation, the universe," from Late Latin systema "an arrangement, system," from Greek systema "organized whole, a whole compounded of parts," from stem of synistanai "to place together, organize, form in order," from syn- "together" (see syn-) + root of histanai "cause to stand" from PIE root *sta- "to stand" (see stet). 

Meaning "set of correlated principles, facts, ideas, etc." first recorded 1630s. Meaning "animal body as an organized whole, sum of the vital processes in an organism" is recorded from 1680s; hence figurative phrase to get (something) out of one's system (1900). Computer sense of "group of related programs" is recorded from 1963. All systems go (1962) is from U.S. space program. The system "prevailing social order" is from 1806.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Collaborative games/example with string for #CLMOOC

As I jumped into Terry Elliott's Thoreau Game in the #CLMOOC, creating a HackPad for String Games, Terry challenged me:
  • Can we use a particular string game to analyze or deconstruct? How about to empower? How does it empower with its string design?  I have lots of questions to tease out that deep deep knowing that rests within you and yearns to be free.
Here's a first response:

First activity: find a group of 3 or more people. Make a string figure length loop of string, about 1 meter or a little more than a yard in length (you can also use the rule of thumb: hold the string in one hand, stretch out the other hand, and as far apart as your hands reach, plus a few inches, is good for most figures and accounts for differences in handspan) for each person.

Then make another piece of string that long enough so that all the people in the group can stand in a circle and loop their own piece of string over the bigger loop:

Making a star with string

This group in the photo above is not following my directions! 

But they didn't make any mistakes, either--

In fact, the shot is from an open exploration session with middle school students, where after some group instruction in a new figure they were given time to explore in my collection of string figure books, and this figure attracted the most attention and participation by the largest group.

If they had done it right, each point of the interior pentagon would be formed by a single string, looped over the center but with each end held in a different hand. Then each person reaches out to each side to hold hands, and as they do they form the points on the star.

This works with any number of people, who then form a polygon with the same number of sides as people. I just did it as the introduction to a professional development session, with the observation that we had to be equalizing the tension and the spacing of our loops to make the geometric figure look right. 

The biggest obstacle I face when confronted with the idea of games is how competition is embedded in so much of the discussion. What I like are collaborative games. I love the way this one is extensible to any size group!